Cleric who works on counter-terror programme branded Israel a ‘terrorist state’

Imam Irfan Chisthti is being investigated by the Home Office over an inflammatory speech made at a pro-Palestine rally eight years ago


A Home Office investigation has been launched after a Muslim cleric who works on the government’s Prevent programme branded Israel a “terrorist state” at a pro-Palestine rally.

Imam Irfan Chishti – who is paid by the government to tackle extremism – was filmed at a demonstration telling cheering crowds that non-Muslims at Al-Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem were “vile human beings”.

The cleric, who was also a member of the government’s Taskforce on Tackling Extremism, yesterday issued a fulsome apology as Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered an internal inquiry.

Mr Chishti blamed the “heat of the moment” for his “ill chosen words” made during a rally in Rochdale eight days ago.

In the speech to the rally he urged Muslims to be smart as “our Jewish brethren” who are “a lot smarter than us” and condemned the historic loss of Palestine.

Under Muslim rule, he said, it had been peaceful but Israel was a “terrorist state forcing terror upon our brothers and sisters”.

“Where is the modern day Saladin?” he asked, as he called for those in the crowd who wanted to become ‘mujahideen’ – or holy warriors – to emulate the historic Muslim general.   Saladin expelled Crusaders from Palestine in 1187. 

And he praised ‘shahids’ – a term used by Hamas for both civilians killed in conflict, militants who die in combat and suicide bombers.

Mr Chishti said: “We ask you Allah that you accept every single shahid who has given their life for Palestine.”

Mr Chishti, who received an MBE in 2009 for his services to the Muslim community, is the executive Imam at Manchester Central Mosque and the spokesman for Rochdale Council of Mosques.

He runs a company called Facets Consulting Ltd, and the Me and You Education programme, which has been a Prevent partner since 2013. 

It offers training to NHS, schools and police on how to spot extremists and combat radicalisation. 

Conflict in Israel and Gaza, which ended with a ceasefire last Thursday, has fuelled a surge in antisemitic abuse in Britain over the last two weeks and seen demonstrations in towns and cities across the country.

A Home Office spokesman said: “These comments are completely unacceptable and risk damaging community relations and undermining Prevent’s important work. 

“We have launched an urgent internal investigation and will take appropriate action. There is no place for hatred in our communities and antisemitism will not be tolerated.”

Mr Chishti said in a statement: “Reading my speech from the protest back in print really jolted me and whilst my objective was to encourage the expression of opinions within democratic and lawful norms, upon reflection I recognise that I could have chosen and less equivocal words for communicating that message.

“Some of my words reflect a clear error of judgement, in the heat of the moment and do not reflect my sentiments or the sentiments of the audience.

“I now appreciate that my ill-chosen words will have caused offence and hurt to the Jewish community and I tender my most profound apologies.”

Mr Chishti told the JC “At this stage as you know there is a Home Office Investigation so I am not responding further.  It really has been an immense time of reflection for me.”

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